We wandered down the beach in the early light, the first to imprint the sand with our feet that morning. We stopped with almost every step, scanning the sand for seashells. The sand was much further away for me than for my four-year-old. I was selective, only making the effort to bend over if I saw exceptional colors on perfectly formed shells. She wasn’t so selective. “Look at this one, Mama!” she said for the forty-seventh time in ten minutes. More often than not, “this one” was dirt brown and broken, well on its way to becoming sand.
“Oh, throw that one back. It’s not beautiful,” I told her more than once. “Look at this one, how perfect it is, how nice the colors are.”
“But I like it.” She looked a little sad. “It’s interesting. Look how you can see the inside—all the spaces. I think this is beautiful, too.”
An objection formed on my month but didn’t escape my lips. What was I teaching my child by insisting that “beautiful” and “perfect” or “whole” were the same thing? What did that assumption imply about people? Surely, I didn’t think the only beautiful people were those considered whole, attractive, and pristine in the world’s eyes!
I didn’t mean to teach my child that, but I was.
She saw the woman in the wheelchair at the grocery store. She saw the burned man at the next table in the restaurant. She saw the homeless man wandering down the street, talking to himself as I drove past him. I valued such people—ones the world might consider broken—and knew they were loved. I tried to show respect when I could. But such people weren’t part of our everyday experience any more than walks on the beach, so we hadn’t really talked about it. By rejecting the broken shells, I implied that some things (maybe even people) were more valuable than others because of their appearance. I knew I needed to correct myself before my daughter subconsciously acquired my tainted values.
I squatted down beside her and held out my hand to receive the broken shell. She ran down to wash it off in the water before placing it carefully in my palm. It was beautiful: intricate structure and shades of color that revealed a Creator much more clearly than the smooth outer surface of my “perfect” shells ever could, but it also, through its brokenness, told a story, and even though I didn’t know the story, I knew it was a beautiful story.
The Scriptures say we are each woven together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139), that He has plans for each of our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he values us above everything else He created (Matthew 6:25-34). We easily apply these Truths to ourselves but find it more difficult to apply the same standards to others. If I want to live out the Word of God in my own life and as a parent, I must believe these verses are true for every person, regardless of their outward appearance, not just for me as the reader. Then I must intentionally lead my children to believe the same thing.
All of us have prejudices (or at least assumptions). They are part of our sin-tainted worldviews, sometimes buried so deep we don’t even realize they are there. The challenge comes in discovering them because they are so deeply ingrained. With intentional parenting, God calls us to lay bare those assumptions and purge them from our lives and our words before we unwittingly implant them in our children’s minds.
What have you taught your kids without realizing it? What assumptions have colored your conversations so that you had to correct them later? I know I’m not alone in this. Please share!
**A shorter version of this story appeared on Just18Summers in March 2018.**